For the Palestinians

Not one more refugee, not one more concession. Arab leaders must recognise and honour the will of the Arab nation that believes in an Arab Palestine, writes Gamil Mattar*

The Riyadh Arab summit was unequivocal in its affirmation of certain principles, or so we thought. The general feeling was that the summit had taken to heart the condition of the Arab people, and the most wronged segment in particular, who, to put it mildly, are at the end of their tether. It was not just Arabs who took this impression from statements and speeches that preceded, accompanied and followed the summit. The West did too, judging from some negative reactions emanating from Washington and elsewhere that reflect Zionist influence.

But then, some organ of the Arab League announced that two Arab states with relations with Israel have been charged with going to Israel to explain the Arab peace initiative to officials there. The gesture, it was said, would be a way of kick-starting direct negotiations. I was not surprised by the announcement, but many Arabs, even some of the most informed, were. They were surprised for at least a couple of reasons.

First, they had not imagined that Arab leaders would let current opportunities to push their case, slip through their hands. These opportunities are many and quite powerful. And they come presented in a nice tidy basket, which contains the American quagmire in Iraq, Israel’s domestic problems, and Iran’s nuclear capacities conflict, which, if handled correctly, could be brought to the service of the rights and causes of the peoples of this region. Somewhere in that basket, too, is the current mood of the Arab people, who have used various means on numerous occasions to voice their deep longing for renewed confidence in themselves, their culture, and their governments.

A second reason for the surprise was that, whether out of principle or by convention or merely for fear of its reputation, the Arab League has never spoken directly to Israel. So no one had anticipated that an Arab League body would form a delegation of some of its members, and give it the assignment of talking to Israel. The two members in question could have gone on their own, or even together, in their capacity as sovereign governments with relations with Israel keen to step forward to help out the Arab League. But that is not what happened. Another purpose was in mind, and it is increasingly evident that this purpose was, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it recently, to help Israel publicly acknowledge that it had practiced in Israel; of a government held up by the West as a bastion of democracy when, in fact, it is a democracy for its Jewish citizens only; of a state that is secular on the surface but religious in essence, and religiously extremist at that. Bishara is the living proof of the fallacy of the Israeli narrative of the origins of the Palestinian Diaspora. Few abroad know that Bishara’s freedom and very life are in jeopardy if he returns to Israel. In other words, few abroad realise that he has become another of the millions of Palestinian refugees scattered against their own volition. So what are we going to do about him? Are we going to let him wander, receiving commiserations and encouragement from some, while others among us hint at the possibility of concessions on the refugee question? Are we going to signal to thousands of Palestinian victims of racism in Israel who are deprived of the hope of a safe and secure future that we will sit on our hands when they too find themselves in need of refuge?

I feel doubly sorry for Bishara. I feel sorry for what lies ahead for him, whatever country he chooses as his refuge, for I fear that the forcefulness of his personality and academic rigour, and his ideological and political outlook will court any number of problems wherever he resides in the Arab world. On top of this, he will be carrying his sense of duty towards the hundreds of Palestinians inside Israel who understood very clearly the implicit message of the Bishara case, and who are now psychologically girding themselves for a horrendous drive on the part of Israeli authorities to generate another Palestinian exodus.

We are facing a situation that flagrantly jars with our expectations from the Riyadh Arab summit. We were looking forward to a respite to contemplate the sources of our weakness and possible means of bolstering ourselves internationally, by drawing, for example, on our relations with Africa and Iran. This, we hoped, would be followed by some movement in the direction of a “revival” in Arab diplomacy, a form of Intifada that would reflect some of the pent up frustration and anger in Arab capitals. The opportunities were there and they were essential. I think they still are. Perhaps it is not too late.

* The writer is director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research.

SOURCE: Al-Ahram

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